I’ve got it Covered

Over the last few weeks I’ve been working on the cover design for Singled Out. Not that I’ve been designing the cover myself… I placed a brief with crowdsourcing design site 99Designs. Here’s how I got on…

There are many ways you can get a cover for your self-published novel. You can design it yourself, although many are the respected sources which advise against this. You can use the template design capabilities available through Kindle and CreateSpace. If you’re lucky enough to find one which fits with your story, you can buy an off-the-shelf cover from several websites. Those with deeper pockets can work on a one-to-one basis with a freelance cover designer of their choice, many of whom have a great deal of experience with traditional publishers.

Or… you can do as I did and place your brief as a contest on 99Designs, and see what comes along.

99Designs works like this: Your brief constitutes a contest. The fee you choose to pay is the award which goes to the eventual winner of the contest. You can select to award at Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum levels and you deposit the requisite sum with 99Designs via Paypal. I chose the Bronze level, as I wasn’t sure how the process would work for me and I didn’t want to risk too much. The higher the award, so 99Designs advises, the higher the number of entries and the more experienced the designers. 99Designs also offered me some kind of an uplift package free-of-charge – I’m not sure if they do this for everyone, or if I had arrived on the site at some opportune moment. Each contest lasts one week at which point, unless there’s a good reason not to, you select your winner.

I looked through several recent contests and noted how people prepared their briefs. Then I created my own, outlining what sort of book I’d written, the setting, tone and other key elements. I gave a feel for the kind of a cover I thought I was looking for and a few pointers on what I might like or dislike. I also populated an  iStock lightbox with a few stock photos, so designers could see the sort of imagery I envisaged for my cover.   I uploaded my brief, and I waited…

I was overwhelmed – in a good way – by the response. I genuinely hadn’t expected to see so many concepts, from so many designers. Some were, let’s not beat-about-the-bush, truly awful. WordArt, ClipArt and Photoshop seemed to be the tools of choice for a small contingent of hopefuls. But many entries were thoughtfully put together and had interesting elements. And some were stand-out. Designers came from right across the globe – I didn’t check them all, but I noted Germany, Romania, Italy, Venezuela, USA, India and the Philippines amongst the locations of those who entered my contest.

The contest owner is supposed to rate each concept with 1-5 stars and eliminate those they don’t favour. I offered a positive or helpful response to as many as possible and after a day or so, the quality and focus of the designs improved correspondingly. By the end of the contest I had seen over 180 designs. That’s around 80-100 unique concepts, plus variants arising from my feedback.

I noticed certain things; one or two designers seemed particularly engaged with my contest, delivering several concepts, responding quickly to my comments and suggestions, refining their designs, developing variations on a theme. It helped me identify not only the good designs, but the good designers – the ones who felt an affinity with my project. I shortlisted three and from that, it was a small step to select my winner.

There’s plenty of opportunity to liaise with your designer(s) as the contest progresses and I imagine the more diligently you do this, the better the outcome. I made a proper nuisance of myself, but my winning designer was infinitely patient and helpful, and produced a cover design for Singled Out – in Kindle and paperback formats – that I’m totally delighted with.

A mock-up of the cover design for Singled Out

The winner of my contest was Alessio Varvarà, an art and design student from Palermo, Italy. His username on 99Designs is alsov . Not only did he create the winning design and a selection of six or seven alternatives which I had great difficulty choosing between (because they were all so right for my story), but he was endlessly patient in adapting his designs in accordance with my comments and observations. He did far more than I expected – and far more than was justified by the fee/award. As a result, I have a design which would hold its own in any bookshop, and which I’m immensely proud of.

Alessio has already completed a second small project for me – that’s the design of a set of pre- and post-release banners for my blog, Facebook and Twitter profiles. Once again, he exceeded my expectations. I’m actually sorry I don’t have another project for Alessio just yet; it has been a genuine pleasure to work with such a talented and enthusiastic young designer.

So, do you like my cover? I know these things are subjective, but for me, it encapsulates the themes and tone of my novel perfectly – the juxtaposition of dark goings-on in a blissful setting. When Singled Out is published in February 2015, you too might be the judge of this. Meantime, I simply offer my warmest endorsement of my designer Alessio/alsov and the 99Designs process, which worked brilliantly for me.

27 thoughts on “I’ve got it Covered

  1. Thanks for describing how this website works. What a wonderful resource for writers. And the proof is in the pudding–your cover is wonderful! Definitely could hold its own in a bookstore!

  2. This is an excellent post for anyone looking for a bespoke cover design at a reasonable price. It would be great if you could share your brief (obviously removing any spoilers) or at least the framework, to help others that may be interested in following in your footsteps.

    1. Here you go. Here are the key elements of the brief as it appeared on 99Designs (omitting spoilers and other unnecessaries)

      Book Title: Singled Out
      Author: Julie Lawford
      Tagline (provisional): Everyone takes baggage on a singles holiday
      Description: A psychological suspense novel set on a holiday on
      Turkey’s Lycian Coast.
      Requirement: Book cover for Kindle e-book and corresponding
      CreateSpace paperback (ie, front and back cover and spine, trim etc).
      Design needs to work for both, plus thumbnail size. Spine width not
      yet known, but likely to be around 2.5 cms.

      SINGLED OUT is a psychological story set on Turkey’s Lycian Coast where a group of strangers come together on a singles holiday in a boutique hotel. As someone begins picking off victims in a sordid private game, one guest is alone in sensing the threat. My story is aimed at readers who enjoy psychological books such as those by authors like Gillian Flynn, Erin Kelly and Rachel Abbott for example. However, I see the challenge as being able to suggest the darkness of the story against an essentially beautiful, exotic, summer holiday location.

      I would be interested to see ideas around the following:
      • A woman lying asleep
      • Sunsets
      • Twin-masted gulet in a secluded bay
      • Ideas using images in this iStock lightbox, or similar […]
      I’m also not wedded to actual imagery and would be very keen to see
      abstract designs too.

      My preference is for something chic/stylish rather than sensationalist.
      This is my first self-published novel, but I intend to write more in
      the same vein. The winning designer will likely become my designer of
      choice for subsequent novels. I also occasionally commission design
      work for my marketing clients and I always welcome the chance to
      connect with great designers.

    1. Thank you! Progress indeed. The manuscript is now finished, finished, and finished again. I’m adding the miscellaneous extras now – Acknowledgements, Copyright page, Author’s note (possibly). But there’s still a bit more to do… over Christmas!

  3. I’d like to see a full front view of the novel’s cover and the back and fly page just to see the entire work. But, from what I can see it looks pretty professional. Did you get an author photo in as well?

  4. You’re a veritable education in how to proceed, Julie! (I’m also impressed by your fearlessness!) And Alessio’s cover — now your cover — is just right! I can’t wait….

  5. This is so intersting. I might one day have need for a cover (well, I hope so :))
    And I’m particularly happy for my countryman (excuse me, but you know…) and his success with you.

    1. Thanks for your comment – your countryman did a fine job for me! And as far as writing a book is concerned, if you want to achieve it enough, you’ll get there. 🙂

  6. What a great process! I will keep this in mind if I ever decide to pursue self publishing. The first step is getting a novel ready for any kind of publishing! Good luck with your book release.

    1. Ah yes, the tricky part…. finishing the darn thing in the first place! I’ve been round and around on that one. Thank you. I’m taking a measured approach, not rushing things, in the hope I won’t omit anything important. There is quite a bit to think about the first time around though.

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